Savage Gulf, TN Cold Weather Hike & Hang Jan 2011
Rayn and I had planned a 4 day 3 night trip to the Big South Fork Recreation Area to test Leigh’s new TQ but a snow storm came through on Monday the day I planned on leaving. Tennessee is not prepared for snow like states in the north. The wife is not comfortable driving in the snow and I could not leave until roads were better in our area. We decided to change our plans to a 3 day 2 nights in the Savage Gulf and in the end it worked out great.
We arrived at the Savage Gulf Ranger Station on Wednesday about 11 am.Fortunately,the ranger station was accessible from a main county road or we would have had issues getting there. We were the only vehicle in the parking lot and were glad to see someone in the ranger station to issue our permit. We had the only permit issued at this station for the 3 days that we were there.
We planned on about an 11 mile loop with a short walk out on Friday morning. The first day the tempurature was in the upper teens while we were hiking. The weather was cloudy and the snow did not stop until Thursday morning. We were hiking through the woods on top of the plateau to our campsite at Dinky Line. This was about 4 miles from the ranger station. We took our time and arrived in time to set up camp, collect firewood, etc. I had a digital thermometer that I lost while setting up camp so we could not record the temperature the first night but guess that the low was around the low teens or possible upper single digits. We had a cheap whistle thermometer that looked to be around 10*.
I had my diy bridge setup and Rayn had a WBBB setup. Both of us were using diy tarps and Leigh’s UQ/TQ combos. Rayn used a 3 Season full length UQ and I used a 3 Season 2/3 UQ with pad under the legs. Both of us used Leigh’s new TQ for top insulation. I started with a base layer of micro fleece but was too warm and ended up the night with boxers, t-shirt, and no socks. I think the combination of using an over cover on the bridge, the UQ made of a heavier dwr material (1.3oz), and a great TQ contributed to a package that worked well together.
Leigh’s new TQ is a hybrid made from climashield and down. The middle section of the TQ is a karo baffle design that worked out very well. The sides are 2 layers of 3.7 combat climashield. The climashield is in the areas of the quilt that are being compressed by the body and where down normally has problems with loft. It insulates better when compressed than down. I could feel it working better than my all down quilt. The design also helps control the down and keeps it over the top of your body. Another unique feature is how the shock cords automatically tuck the sides of quilt for you. This is one of the best features. It allows the TQ to act like a sleeping bag for back sleepers. If you roll around or side sleep you can use it like a regular quilt by loosening the cords. The video shows some of these features in detail
We both slept in late on Thursday morning. After exploring the area and shooting some video we left camp about 11am. We had about 5 miles to cover. The sun was coming out and the clouds were gone. We hiked the Mountain Oak Trail, part of the North Rim Trail, part of the Savage Gulf Loop Trail and a couple connector trails for about 5 miles to camp. Most of these trails had not been hiked since the snowfall. The only tracks were on the animal paths. It was like walking 5 miles on the beach so it was a little slower than normal.
We arrived in camp with just enough time for camp chores. The temp was dropping fast so a good supply of firewood would make or break the night. Rayn had a new Cold Steel Bushman knife that made short order of the firewood chores. It cut and split enough wood for the evening in a very short time. Our water was freezing very quickly so the fire was important for hydration more than anything. We found the digital thermometer when we broke camp so we were able to record accurate temp readings. It was 10* when we turned in for the night. I got up at 1am and the temp was 5*. I got back up at 6:30am the temp was 2* and 99% humidity. It was very cold for us Tennessee boys. My water was in the hammock under my feet and quilt but was frozen solid. Rayn did a better job with keeping his water warm. I slept in micro fleece base layer and no socks. At 6am UQ was still very warm and the TQ was working well. I got out to check temp but camera was too cold at 2*. I jumped back in hammock and put my pants around my feet and down jacket on my chest to help warm the insulation up quicker. I was toasty in a few minutes and it was hard to get back up but wanted to record the temp after camera warmed up.
We decided to pack up and get moving to keep warm. We finished the loop and arrived at the ranger station. We were still the only car in the parking lot other than the rangers.
I know our northern hangers get into much lower temps but this was a learning experience for us. We do not have the opportunity to get out with snow and low temps on a hiking trip very often in TN. It is the little things that matter the most when in the cold. Decisions have to be made quickly and knowing you can count on your hiking partner makes the difference. On our second night we did not even have to talk about what needed to be done in a short amount of time. Thanks to Rayn for going on this adventure.
The videos below show parts of our trip. Part I covers the first day and the last couple minutes show Leigh's new TQ. Part II documents the 2nd day/night and our trip out.